Compared to keeping customers, acquiring customers is easy.
That said, retention is the undisputed heavyweight champ of all growth metrics in a subscription-based online business (which I believe is the best choice for an automated solopreneur).
That’s not my opinion. It’s math.
Brian Balfour, former VP of growth at HubSpot, calls retention the “power plant” of growth.
He also calls churn (the inverse of retention) the “silent killer of startup success.”
If you’re trying to build a venture-backed startup, high churn will be the first thing that makes prospective investors walk away.
But retention is a lagging indicator - so how do you know if you’re moving the needle in real-time?
The Leading Indicator of Retention
Customers who continue to stick around are the ones who are getting value from your product regularly.
The ones who get value regularly are the ones USING IT regularly.
It sounds obvious - but I can’t count the number of founders who experienced a face-melting moment when I described customer engagement as the primary leading indicator of customer retention.
Thankfully, engagement is a lot easier to optimize for in real-time.
Linear Tactics vs. Loops
In the growth world, a LOT gets written about loops, but most of the folks reading it are Silicon Valley founders and growth experts.
Unfortunately, Russell Brunson has brainwashed most others to believe they’re “one funnel away,” so they continue to try single-shot, linear tactics.
Russell owns a funnel company, so I can’t help but respect his indoctrination of the masses. It’s just the incorrect approach if you want to build an automated, high-growth business.
Let’s break down a few key steps of a specific type of loop, which is an engagement loop:
The trigger inspires some sort of action.
The channeldelivers that trigger to the user.
The routineis what the trigger prompts the user to do.
The rewardis what’s unlocked for the user when they do it.
This is a slight variant of the more famous concept of a Habit Loop from Charles Duhigg:
This Habit Loop framework by @cduhigg is a great start to forming habits that stick. If you cannot change the trigger or the cue, try slowly changing the routine that will provide the same positive positive reward. pic.twitter.com/EfYRoi4Y6g
The highest-retaining users you have are the ones who have built a habit around using your product - which is precisely what we’re after.
Make sense? Keep reading…
Proactive customer engagement becomes even more crucial to build a fully automated business.
While organic engagement within your product is great, it’s not the only way to spark engagement.
You can manufacture engagement by being proactive in your recurring outreach to customers.
In one of my current businesses, I work hands-on with clients helping them to accelerate and automate their growth.
Higher-tier clients get a call with me every week where we chat through everything we’re working on together, what we’re experimenting around, and what we’ve learned that can inform upcoming experiments.
The calls themselves count as engagement - but what happens between calls?
Here’s one structure that’s worked well to keep clients highly engaged:
Monday: 1:1 call
Tuesday: Prior day’s call recap
Wednesday: Progress update
Thursday: Key learnings this week
Friday: Progress update
Using this stupid-simple structure, I’m proactively engaging with clients through a private Slack channel almost every day.
This allows my feedback loop to be pretty fast, and when onboarding new clients, I train them to reply in some way to each message - even if it’s with a quick emoji to let me know they’ve seen it.
Using Augment for Call Recaps
For automation, my philosophy is simple.
Start with one piece of the puzzle.
Add another piece.
Repeat step 2 until there’s nothing left to do.
If you elect to use a similar engagement loop, I’d first recommend signing up for Augment.
Augment is an AI tool that doesn’t join your meetings like Otter or Fireflies - but it’s watching and taking notes regardless.
After the call is over, I get an email that looks a lot like this:
I do have to copy and paste this into Slack after each meeting, so it’s not fully automated - but as soon as they’ve got an API I can work with, I’ll cut that step out.
Not taking notes while on the call allows me to be fully present and engaged with a client paying me thousands of dollars each month for my attention and expertise, and it also saves me quite a bit of time after the call.
Once I’ve pasted it into Slack, I’ll schedule it for the next morning using the arrow next to the paper airplane.
I’ll schedule it to send early before they get punched in the face with dozens of other Slack messages.
This gives the customer the impression that my team and I are up incredibly early working on their account - when I’m likely at the gym or eating breakfast, and my team doesn’t actually exist.
This is just one example of how this sort of manufactured engagement can be built and (semi) automated, even in businesses that typically require quite a bit of manual interaction.
To go back to our Engagement Loop framework:
The trigger is a Slack notification.
The channelis (obviously) a Slack channel.
The routineis the user responding in some way.
The rewardis the feeling of being completely informed.
Automated, proactive engagement can be an incredibly simple yet incredibly powerful tactic to keep customers engaged, increasing your retention rate more than you think.
This same tactic can be used in various ways for nearly any type of business (customizing it a bit based on the product and value prop).
Automation is an invisible, yet powerful asset for entrepreneurs.
- It amplifies your strengths. - It mitigates your weaknesses. - It frees your mind to think creatively. - It quietly transforms chaos into order.
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